Z is for . . .


A few years back I took an official sabbatical from church. It represented a step away from serving full-time as a pastor and a step toward writing as the focus of my ministry.

How much money would I earn for taking this leap of faith? At first, nothing. Zero. Later? Perhaps double or triple nothing!

In the months that followed my announcement to leave the parish, kind church folks asked what I’d do with my time. My standard reply was, “Nothing.”

How flippant. How true.

Every form of creative expression begins with nothing. There is no outward music until the inward sounds nudge (or elbow) the composer. A dance floor remains empty, filled with space to be defined by an initial spin or jump. A preacher turns from studying the comforting (or troubling) pages of the Bible to a sermon hoped for (or dreaded), but either way, it’s not yet there. A novelist, about to plunge into the marathon of writing and rewriting 100,000 words, contemplates a blank yellow legal pad or a lonely cursor blinking on a monitor as vast as the Pacific.

The Biblical story opens with a zero. Chaos. A void. A waiting. Awaiting. Every form of creative expression begins with nothing and then . . .

A ? Is Shaped Like A Hook

Matthew 16:13-20 – 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 21, 2011

“But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

The Bible offers a multitude of questions. Each generation hears them anew. They invite answers, but even more reveal the depths of our faith. Or doubt. Or fear. Or hope.

“Where are you?” God asks Adam and Eve in the mythic grandeur of Eden. Before Adam replies, does he swipe the forbidden fruit’s juice still dribbling down his chin?

“What is his name? What shall I say to them?” Moses demands. Coarse sand pinches his naked feet, and it takes all his courage not to retreat from the burning bush. Does Moses gulp, throat parched, between the two questions he poses to God as he seeks the Holy Name? Moses is, after all, caught between the divine call and the ever-grumbling Israelites.

“Tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s request wasn’t a proper query. But I hear an anguished plea. Near Easter morning’s empty tomb, eyes literally open and yet figuratively closed, she first assumes Jesus is merely a gardener. What has been done with him?

These ancient longings rise from the mouths of fools and saints, of the weary and the wary, and yet seem . . . just asked, as if whispered in your ear. It’s like a question mark, its top shaped like a shepherd’s crook, reaches across the millennia to encircle us, drawing us closer to the Holy, challenging us to be honest with our faith. Our doubt. Our fear. Our hope.

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you have favorite questions asked in oft-read verses. Some always challenge you, because they expect such truthful answers. If you don’t give a damn about the Bible, there are still profound questions you ask about faith—though you might scorn words like faith or religion. I’ll make two guesses about your questions. First, you too will struggle to truthfully answer them. Second, somewhere in the Bible, a peasant or a king has also posed your deepest questions.

Questions embolden us. Questions take our breath away. The curve of the hook tightens against our chest and draws us nearer to the Holy.

I wonder . . . would you answer Jesus’ question differently now than, say, ten years ago?

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked his disciples (Matthew 16:15).

And asks us. Asks me. Asks you. Continue reading →